Toyota Recall Personal Injury Lawsuits Can Move Forward: Judge

A federal judge has cleared the way for wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits against Toyota to proceed over accidents allegedly caused by the sudden and unexpected acceleration their vehicles, after the Japanese automaker tried to have more than 50 cases thrown out. 

U.S. District Judge James V. Selna has been considering a motion by Toyota Motor Corp.’s lawyers to dismiss the injury lawsuits because they claim that plaintiffs have not identified a specific flaw in Toyota vehicles that caused them to experience sudden and uncontrolled acceleration. However, like he did just days ago in a ruling involving economic loss Toyota class action lawsuits, Judge Selna appears set to deny Toyota’s motion to dismiss and allow the cases to move forward.

In Wednesday’s tentative ruling, Judge Selna accused Toyota of trying to get too technical and specific in its motion to have the cases rejected. Toyota is arguing that most of the claims are based on allegations that there is a defect with its electronic throttle system, but the company claims no such defect has ever been found. Judge Selna, however, said that plaintiffs do not have to identify a specific defect because anyone who purchases an automobile has the reasonable expectation that it would stop when it is supposed to stop. He also criticized Toyota for appearing to blame many of the accidents on the drivers for years, while quietly sitting on information that other Toyota owners were experiencing the same problems.

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Judge Selna has heard follow-up arguments from his tentative ruling and will issue a final order in the near future.

About 400 Toyota personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits have been centralized and consolidated under Judge Selna for pretrial proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Santa Ana as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL). All of the lawsuits contain allegations that drivers or passengers experienced an injury or death after their Toyota vehicles accelerated unexpectedly out of control. The court has christened the alleged defect “Sudden Unintended Acceleration”, or SUA.

Toyota recalls have been issued for about 11 million vehicles since September 2009, with 8.5 million recalled due to complaints that they may accelerate out of control. The recalls were issued in waves, starting with 4.2 million recalled for problems involving the floormats, and then later recalls indicated that there was a mechanical or electrical problem with the gas pedals.

A number of experts and attorneys have claimed that the problems are caused by a defective electronic throttle system widely used in Toyota and Lexus vehicles, but officials from the auto maker continue to deny those allegations.

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